Repurposing Vacant Retail Space
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Repurposing Vacant Retail Space

Have you heard that you can now buy almost anything you could ever need or want with just one click?  Yes, you and everyone else know this, which is why some physical shops and retailers struggle for business and in some cases are forced to close. Consequently, both malls and strip shopping centers have been littered with empty space. The question is what to put in those spaces so that consumers will want to step away from the computer and get in their cars for shopping? The answer to that question lately is not always another retail store, but other creative options. Read on to learn more about clever ideas for repurposing vacant retail space.

Experience and Entertainment

Imagine a place where you can buy shoes for the kids, get a haircut, have lunch, have your nails done, play a round of mini golf, break for dinner and then see a movie. All while your car stays in the same parking spot throughout the day.

These places exist across the country and they’re called shopping malls. Families and friends are attracted to experiential activities that include retail, food and entertainment—now cleverly called retailtainment. In the evening, live music is often featured outdoors or in an atrium. Malls today are the town square of yesterday—a place where people congregate, interact, shop and enjoy entertainment.

Work and Play

Millennials are expected to make up 50 percent of the workforce by 2020 and 75 percent by 2030. This demographic in particular values work-life balance. Therefore, coworking in a retail center makes sense.

Coworkers can easily walk to restaurants and shops—an important convenience for them that generates more foot traffic for business owners. With coworking, vacant retail space is filled and a growing lifestyle trend that focuses on convenience and flexibility is available.

Government Offices and Non-Profits

Government agencies are jumping on the convenience bandwagon, too. For example, local departments of motor vehicles, community service agencies and branches of the U.S. Postal Service are moving into vacant spaces in strip malls.

For shopping center owners and managers, allowing a non-profit organization to occupy an empty space can be advantageous. Whether the rent is discounted or disregarded, the generosity shows a willingness to help the community. In addition, making sure the space is occupied helps other tenants and deters vandalism to the property.

Medical Centers and Health Clubs

Consumers today want easy access to health care; therefore it makes sense for providers to take up vacant retail space. Outpatient clinics, urgent care centers and diagnostic services often make good neighbors for restaurants and retailers. There may be certain zoning and other requirements to be met before a medical facility can begin construction in a former retail space, but the benefits usually outweigh these hurdles.

Similarly, different types of health clubs are moving in, too. Pilates, cross-fit, yoga and barre classes are the perfect compliment to the mix in a retail center that already has a coffee shop, restaurants or a food court.

New Life in Old Malls

Old malls don’t die—they’re recycled. Just because the space is no longer suitable for retail, doesn’t necessarily mean that the structure isn’t functional. Many of these buildings comprise enough square footage to offer ample space for distribution and warehouse facilities. And because they are often located along highways, they provide easy access to lines of transportation. Other malls become churches, office buildings, community college campuses or self-storage facilities.

Empty big box stores are similarly being reimagined for other uses. Courthouses, city libraries and even museums are finding new homes in a previously shuttered Walmart, Kmart or Toys ‘R’ Us. Furthermore, repurposing an existing building is one of the best examples of green building. In fact, some architects are now incorporating possible ideas for reuse in the design of new construction. Repurposing vacant retail space becomes a natural step in the life of a building when adaptability is planned from the start.


Natalia Singer Vice President, Retail
Natalia Singer is a Vice President in the Retail Division at Henry S. Miller Brokerage, one of the largest independent full service commercial real estate firms in Texas. She specializes in landlord and tenant representation in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Read More